Why Business Leaders Must Foster a Company Culture

At the center of all businesses is a company culture. This culture exists whether the leaders created it or not. If the leaders did not create the culture, then the loudest voices at the company define the culture. Business leaders need to stand up, define, implement and live their company culture.

Some view company culture as free food and drinks; others think the casual dress code or no shoes policy is the culture; however, they are mistaken. Building an employee first culture is about building a team of individuals with the same purpose, the same passion and the same principles. The culture must be clearly defined and intentionally built by the company leaders or owners. The most difficult and important step is that the business owners must actually engage employees and follow the culture that they have built.

Building a great culture comes with many benefits. Studies show that companies with an established culture can reduce employee turnover by as much as 34%. Additional studies have shown that productivity can be increased by up to 15% by creating and living a good company culture.

Your Culture Must Be “Employee First.” The most important asset to your company is not your customers, nor is it profit. This may seem counterintuitive to many business leaders who have traditionally put (and been trained to put) customers and profits ahead of everything else. The concept of putting employees before customers is not new at all. More than 20 years back, five business professors from Harvard University teamed up research the employee first model. The result is that, hands down, the single most valuable thing a company has is its people.

Your people should never be referred to as resources, so drop the “Human Resources” nonsense and use something like People Operations as Google did. An employee first culture puts your employees at the top of the stack. When employees are on top, their voices will be heard, and actions will be taken based on their input. When employees see that their voices have been heard, and that the leaders have taken their opinions and suggestions into consideration, they will feel that they made a difference – because they actually did! 

REI is a company that manufactures gear for outdoor enthusiasts. They have a well-defined culture built into their business model. One unique thing they do is to hire people that are outdoor-oriented. This common interest fuels the passion for employees. All REI employees are part of a co-op, which means that share in the company’s success. Here we see that RIE has an employee first culture.

Richard Branson founded Virgin Group, which contains more than 400 companies. He is serious about culture, he also coined the term (and wrote the book) “The Virgin Way” which describes their culture as “If It’s Not Fun, It’s Not Worth Doing.” Branson also states in his book “one of the keys to ‘the way’ we do things is nothing more complex than listening – listening intently to everyone who has an opinion to share, not just the self-professed experts.” He describes listening to all team members, leadership and employees alike. Virgin most definitely puts their employees first, and your business should, too.

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